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Image by Benjamin Child


When was the last time you heard someone's journey to the C-Suite and left with information you could leverage for yourself or share with others? Kurt Nielsen's story is one to sit with because this authentic conversation drops gems in every step of his journey from the lab to CEO.

First, I asked Kurt to share a bit about his journey - from getting his PhD in Chemistry, working in a startup, moving up the ranks in generic pharmaceuticals, and rising into the C-Suite (Chief Operating Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Executive Officer). He explains that each role had vastly different spheres of management and leadership with all those different roles. And currently, he's just passed his one-year mark as an entrepreneur!

With all of this experience under his belt, I wanted to explore with him - what has the "evolution of STEM Leadership" looked like? Knowing that career paths in the past seem narrow, we discuss, in particular, the limited decision to stay, or leave academia and go into "industry", then move up the organizational hierarchy in linear order.

From Kurt’s experience, he remembers within the company there were two paths, typically called "ladders" that you could move up - technical or managerial. Unfortunately, these weren't really differentiating options given each "ladder" still increased your responsibility, scope of work, and increased engagement with people. But we acknowledge dealing with people is really the hard part.

We also mention in the video, that currently there are so many more opportunities that have opened up for the STEM professional that they can "cut their own paths."

As we settled into our conversation, I asked Kurt to share his experience transitioning to his first role outside of the lab. "It was thrilling!", he says. Hired in a startup biotech in a dual role as a research scientist and group leader for an analytical chemistry department, he comments that there was no playbook on leadership and that you needed to manage the needs of your people to execute their work, as well as, inspire them.

Kurt and I go into many more thoughts on STEM Leadership - including a challenging moment as a leader and his transition into becoming a CEO.

Check out the video here to hear more experiences and gain more insights!

But if you only have a few minutes, feel free to scroll through the video's timestamps:

Section 1: Who is Kurt Nielsen?

Section 2: STEM Leadership in the Past

Section 3: Dealing with & Leading people

Section 4: Transitioning out of academia

Section 5: Becoming a CEO

Section 6: Today's leadership challenges

Section 7: What do future leaders need?

"What do I need to do to get to the next level in my organization?"
"How can I effectively transition in my scientific career?"
"How do I gain support for my innovative ideas?"

These are the types of questions scientists regularly ask me. To answer them, I draw from my own experience, as well as that of others working with scientists, and the conclusions are surprisingly similar. In addition to the time and background required of a STEM professional, there are four essential skills senior leaders, hiring managers, and even investors consistently look for in a strong leader: collaboration, adaptability, communication, and the ability to create a shared vision.

Full Article on Association for Women in Science:

Fabrice Chouraqui

Fabrice Chouraqui was formerly the President Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. In this role, he led the pharmaceutical business in the U.S., including the day-to-day operations of US General Medicines. He joined Novartis in 2010. Chouraqui’s experience in the pharma industry includes leadership positions at Bristol-Myers Squibb and Hoechst Marion Roussel. He holds a Master’s degree in science and a Ph.D. in pharmaceuticals from the University of Paris as well as an MBA from INSEAD. In May 2020, he became CEO of Cellarity.

  1. What made you decide to pursue both science (PharmD) and business (MBA) degrees? Very early in my scientific studies I was attracted by the developers and manufacturers of these medicines. As I became more interested in drug development and worked in this field, I realized the drug industry was a business requiring significant investments and profits to be sustainable. This pushed me to complement my scientific degrees with an MBA to develop my business skills and strengthen my understanding of the various components of commercializing a product.

  2. How has your scientific educational background helped you when working with scientists at your current and previous jobs? You mentioned that you “understood” scientists and the way they worked. In what way do you feel that you “understand them” and how is this beneficial to the work that you do? The science is evolving fast, clinical pathways and R&D plans are becoming more complex. You cannot be an expert in everything, but you have to understand enough to be credible and ask the right questions. This helps to have constructive dialogue and to ensure the right data is generated and investments are prioritized appropriately. Ultimately, innovation is the result of experiments and failures, so it is critical not to shelf ideas or technologies too quickly. On the other hand, it is important to understand when to move on.

Full Article on Life Science Leader:

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